BENNINGTON — David Newell and his wife, Carol, “were looking for a change of scenery” when they moved here from central Pennsylvania in 1976.
Then-recent Dickinson College grads, they liked what Vermont had to offer, beginning with colder winters.
“We always sort of wanted to consider moving to New England, and enjoying a little bit colder weather — not warmer. How about that?” he said with a laugh.
Newell stayed long enough to retire last month after 42 years with a local insurance firm, and he said he isn’t leaving the area anytime soon.
“I came to Bennington in 1976, when I was about 25 years old,” he said during a recent interview, “and I was hired to be the Chamber of Commerce director.
After three years in the area, he accepted a position with Wills Insurance Agency on South Street, which for the past five years has been part of The Richards Group.
Over the years, Newell, now 70, was prominently involved in community, business and civic affairs — first as director of the local Chamber of Commerce through his current key role as president of the Prospect Mountain Association. The association operates the Nordic ski facility in Woodford.
He also served on the board of the former Southern Vermont College, and agreed to step in as the board chairman to help guide SVC through the turbulent period around the school's closure in 2019. The 371-acre SVC campus subsequently was purchased at a bankruptcy auction by the Southwestern Vermont Health Care, which now is considering plans for reuse of the property.
“I decided to take that challenge, and try to make the best of a pretty tough situation there,” Newell said of the closure. “We are forever indebted to [SVHC President and CEO] Tom Dee and the hospital staff for making that happen.”
After the purchase for $4.65 million, Newell, financial planner Michael McKenna, of D.B. McKenna & Co., and the SVHC Foundation led a successful fund drive to raise money for costs associated with the redevelopment of the campus land and buildings.
“The response to the Grateful Bennington campaign was just overwhelming,” Newell said. “Folks were so delighted that the hospital was buying the campus, that we raised in just over six weeks over six hundred grand.”
He said that response is one of the reasons “I’ve enjoyed living in Bennington and the Bennington area all this time.”
Despite his long career with the insurance firm and service on several community boards, Newell probably is equally well-known in Nordic skiing circles.
He was one of several local enthusiasts who in 2018 formed a nonprofit corporation to purchase the Prospect Mountain Nordic Ski Center to ensure it was not developed.
Working with the Vermont Land Trust, which helped preserve the mountain portion of the site through a conservation easement, the Prospect association raised money toward the purchase and continued maintenance and upgrades to the Route 9 facility.
Donations came in from around the state and region, including among the hundreds of people who had skied there, or participated in high school or college competitions, or simply sought to preserve the 144-acre site as an outdoor recreation asset for the community.
The effort also received a $450,000 donation from alumni of Williams College and a $285,000 grant from the Vermont Housing and Conservation Board, which was contingent upon approval of the preservation easement.
The Newell name spread further in Nordic circles when his son, Andy Newell, became a member of the U.S. Ski Team and remained on the squad through four Olympic Games, beginning in 2006.
Interestingly, the elder Newell said Nordic skiing was not really on his radar until he moved to Vermont.
“After we got up here is when we certainly took an interest,” he said. “But I’d never done it before. We enjoyed it, and we’ve certainly stayed with it.”
During the 1970s, Woodford State Park and the surrounding area became popular for cross-country skiing, while downhill skiing still was available nearby at Prospect Mountain. The area opened as an alpine facility with rope tows and a T-bar lift in the 1930s but converted to Nordic skiing in the early 1990s.
A key feature is that Prospect, with a base lodge at 2,150 feet and the peak at 2,740 feet, usually receives and retains deep snow cover all season.
Newell’s children, including Andy, daughter Lindsay and son Peter, all participated in Bill Koch League youth skiing programs held at Prospect.
Andy graduated from the Stratton Mountain School in 2002, where he was a student along with the current headmaster, Carson Thurber, and future Lt. Gov. Molly Gray, both of whom skied at Prospect Mountain in their youth.
Andy Newell currently coaches young skiers at the Bridger Ski Foundation in Bozeman, Mont., his father said.
In his retirement, David Newell said he still volunteers at Prospect Mountain, which is managed by the former owner, Steve Whitham; he also does some part-time insurance adjusting work for Grant Adjustment Agency of Rutland.
Newell said he also likes to spend time at a second home in Rangeley, Maine.
RECREATION A KEY
The former chamber director said he thinks Bennington “has come a long way and is moving in the right direction” economically, despite the COVID-19 pandemic.
One key plus for the future, Newell said, is “there are a lot of great recreation possibilities around here, including Prospect, and a lot of great hiking trails.”
In addition to his time with the chamber, Newell was involved with the Bennington Rotary Club and is a past president; was active in the Better Bennington Corp. when it first formed and was president of the downtown organization’s board for a time; is a past president of the Bennington Free Library board, and has served on the Southwestern Vermont Medical Center board and the SVHC Foundation board.